by Luke Wayne
According to a recent report in the New York Times and elsewhere, an Iranian national who left Islam and converted to Christianity was denied asylum in the United Kingdom. What makes this incident particularly newsworthy, however, is the reason that was given for rejecting the asylum seeker's request. The man had apparently stated that he converted to Christianity, in part, because Christianity is a peaceful religion (in contrast to Islam). The U.K.'s Home Office, the government agency responsible for immigration and thus for processing appeals for asylum, took umbrage with this. They not only denied the man's request but sent him a letter arguing through abused biblical proof texts (which we will examine below) that Christianity was supposedly just as violent as Islam. The New York Times further reports that, after trotting out a series of quotes from the Bible (ripped grossly out of context, of course), the letter from the Home Office stated:
"These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge."
In their coverage of the same incident, Fox News reported that the Home Office letter also argued that the Book of Revelation is "filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence" and that this further demonstrated the alleged violence of the Christian religion.
The fact that converts to Christianity who apply for asylum in the U.K. receive unfair treatment is itself not a new discovery. A report back in 2016 by the BBC noted that many such applicants were challenged to answer Bible trivia questions such as the date of Pentecost or if they knew all ten commandments by heart, with their requests for asylum being denied if they couldn't adequately answer. The purpose of these questions was suposedly to be sure that the person was not lying about their conversion just to get into the country, though in reality, a recent convert from a Muslim country who is now fleeing for their life would obviously be unlikely to have learned such details that even many people in the pews of England and America would likely struggle to answer. A more dramatic example was brought up in a recent BBC radio broadcast (segment begins around 27:59). In it, an Iranian woman who had also sought asylum in the UK after converting to Christianity from Islam explained some of the questions she faced from the British Home Office:
"For instance, he asked me why Jesus didn't help you from the Iranian regime or Iranian authorities."
Reporting on the same incident, the Daily Mail provided an image from the rejection letter the woman received, which stated:
"You affirmed in your AIR [Asylum Interview Record] that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted."
Thus, in this latter incident, the British government's argument was essentially that a real Christian would not flee from a literal death sentence. A true follower of Jesus would not even look both ways before crossing the street because they should believe that God will just protect them from cars. It's like telling someone, "okay, I'm going to pull out a knife and stab you, and if you're really a Christian, you won't run or resist me because you will trust that Jesus can protect you." Now that I think about it, this argument should remind you of something:
"And he [the devil] led Him [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, "He will command His angels concerning You to guard You," and, "On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone,"'" (Luke 4:9-10, see also Matthew 4:5-6).
That's right, the U.K.'s Home Office decided to borrow its standard for who is and isn't a true believer literally from Satan. All of this displays a clear hostility toward Christian refugees. However, the most recent story really is new in one crucial way. These other examples involve ludicrous ways of claiming that the applicants are not true Christians and thus not in need of asylum. What we now have is an example where that pretense is dropped and the applicant is rejected because of open animosity toward the Bible and Christianity itself.
Responding to the Proof Texts
So, what are the biblical texts which this Home Office representative used to accuse Christianity of being a violent religion opposed to peace? And how are we to respond to such accusations? Before briefly looking at each verse, it is important to clarify what should be common sense. Finding a verse that describes something violent that happened does not make Christianity a violent religion. Finding a verse that predicts something violent that will happen in the future doesn't make Christianity a violent religion. Indeed, finding passages where God commanded a specific person or group to carry out a violent act at a particular time for a specific reason that was unique to that point in biblical history does not make Christianity a violent religion. The Bible commanding Christians to be peaceful even in the face of persecution but promising that God Himself will later mete out justice on the wicked by His own power does not make Christianity a violent religion. No, to prove that Christianity is a violent religion opposed to peace, one would have to find a passage that commands Christians to do violence. So, let's see if the U.K's Home Office was able to find such a text:
- Leviticus 26:7-8, "But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword."
This verse is part of the Old Covenant promise to Israel related to the land that God would give them. Ripped out of context, this verse appears at first to be instructions for Israel to pursue and strike down their enemies, but in this case, that is not what is going on here at all. The verse just before this reads, "I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land." Thus, this is simply saying that, if Israel was faithful to the Mosaic covenant, God would keep them safe in the land. If anyone attacked them, Israel would be able to defeat the attacker even if the enemy outnumbered them. Israel is not being sent off to conquer beyond the borders of their land. This is simply a promise that no enemy will be able to successfully invade them if they remain faithful to God. This promise does not directly and literally apply to Christians in this life. We have no land to defend and we are promised suffering and persecution this side of eternity. Our promise of protection and safety lies in the eternal life we will share in the age to come. This verse comes nowhere close to commanding Christians to do anything violent.
- Exodus 34:12-13, "Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim."
This verse is also an Old Covenant command to the people of Israel. It is related to the specific historical context of God bringing Israel into the promised land and, at the same time, bringing just judgment on the wicked people who were living there. This was not a command to make no covenant with any people anywhere and to travel about the world destroying everyone's idols. It was a specific, one-time command given to Israel on the unique occasion of first establishing them in the land as a distinctive nation. God chose to use Israel as the means of His judgment on the wicked peoples of Canaan, in part, as a first-hand picture for them of how God would use other nations as a means of punishing them if they fell into the same wickedness (which we later see occur in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles). The point here, however, is that this is a command unique to the establishment of Old Covenant Israel in the promised land. This verse (and others like it) are not directly or literally applicable to Christians, and no tradition of Christianity that I am aware of has ever been so biblically confused as to think this was a command for them to commit any act of violence toward anyone. This verse does not advocate Christian violence.
- Matthew 10:34, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Here, Jesus is indeed speaking to His disciples, but apparently the representative of the British Home Office who wrote this charming letter didn't bother to actually read the chapter in which it is found. The section begins with the words "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves," (Matthew 10:16). Many translations even read here "harmless as doves." Either way, the point is that they are going out to peacefully preach to a hostile world that will violently reject them. Jesus is not telling His disciples to do violence to others. He is warning them that others will do violence to them! Even then, they were to be like sheep among the wolves. They were not to respond in kind. They were to remain innocent, harmless. Jesus predicted that violence would be done to Christians, He never commanded that violence be done by Christians. Indeed, He commanded against it! The message that Jesus brought would divide and bring about hostility, but the division and hostility would be entirely by those who rejected the message, not by those who followed it. The "sword" that Jesus brought was not physical violence, but rather a sharp division between those who peacefully accept the gospel and those who violently reject it. The chapter could not be plainer, if only those critics who quote from it could be bothered to actually read it first.
- Revelation 2:22-23, "Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds."
This is a promise that Christ Himself will bring judgment on those who profess His name but live in wickedness, so it seems rather odd to read it is a command for people who profess the name of Christ to live in wickedness. To read this as an encouragement for Christians to go out and do evil and violence is to literally reverse the meaning entirely. God will judge the wicked. That is not a reason to do wicked things to people. It is a reason not to do wicked things to people. Christ will come and carry out judgment. That is not a reason for me to go carry out judgment. It is a reason for me not to do so. I am not Christ. He has the judgment thing covered. I can live peacefully even with the wicked knowing that justice is in His hands. There is nothing in this verse that remotely resembles a command for Christian violence.
And that's it. That is the case the Home Office used to accuse Christianity of violence and reject a man's application for asylum. Clearly, this was about animosity toward the Bible rather than being about anything the Bible actually says.
Christianity is not a violent religion. The Bible does not command Christians to do violence. Instead, it tells Christians things like:
"love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men," (Luke 6:35).
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 'But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good," (Romans 12:18-21).
"Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword,'" (Matthew 26:52).
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace," (James 3:18).
"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you," (Luke 6:27-31).
And other such things. Christianity is not a religion of vengeance and bloodshed. We are called, instead, to mercy, forgiveness, patience, and grace. This, of course, means that the decision made by the British Home Office was unjust and the reasons given were absurd. Yet, it also means that we as Christians ought to pray for our persecutors, whether they be radical Muslims in Iran or caseworkers in the U.K.'s Home Office. We should, of course, speak out about these issues and urge our governments not to make foolish or wicked decisions, but we should not do so from a position of hatred or malice. And we should pray that they may come to know the grace of our Lord whom they presently mock and resist. May our brothers and sisters receive a special grace in the face of these adversities. And may the rest of us be ready as the days may shortly come when wolves turn their attention toward us.